Look for the Miriams: Everyday Magic, Day 956

The oneg (reception) afterwards with the delicious food Sue prepared

A few hours after the Tree of Life shooting, we clung to each other — singing, praying, crying — at the Beth Israel Center in Madison, WI. Family members, old and new friends, and synagogue goers — most of them elders, just like the people murdered in Pittsburgh while praying, gathered for a Miriam’s Well reading preceded by a Havdalah service, a 10-minute Saturday evening ritual to close the Sabbath and welcome the new week. But with the pain we carried from the worst anti-semitic attack in U.S. history, the braided Havdalah candle, the only light in the dark sanctuary, took on new, and unfortunately for us (a people targeted throughout history for annihilation) old meaning.

Later that night, my friend Mary Ellen, who was among us, wrote me, “I keep thinking about the Mr. Rogers quote about what can we do when bad things happen to feel better. He said ‘Look for the helpers”’ He might have meant the first responders, but I think it’s for all healers and folks who create. Maybe he should have said ‘Look for the Miriams.'” Given that the shooting happened in Fred Rogers’ neighborhood, this is all the more appropriate.

Miriam — storied in the Torah and ample midrash (interpretations in prose, poetry, and other arts) — leads us singing and dancing in the desert of our times no matter where we wander and for how long. She also carries a stone she can turn into a well to allow the refugee Jews to water their animals and grow food, which in turn, provides sustenance and survival. How this works, as Naomi in my novel tells Miriam, isn’t clear, “But healing is always a mystery, isn’t it?”

I see Miriam as one who feeds her people’s bodies and souls; all around me, I see many Miriams. Our long-time friend Sue not only hosted us and prepared a beautiful spread of desserts from the novel (rugalah, lemon bars, carrot cake and more), but as regularly as most people breathe,  she serves her community, from making food for mourners, to bravely heading off to Shabbat services just minutes after she heard of the shooting. Marty, our administrative director at our local Jewish synagogue, brings great presence, calm, and love to wherever task she does and room she enters. My sister-in-law Karen spends several weekends each month taking care of our mother-in-law, baking her favorite pie with her, making stews and inviting us to come eat too. Kelley sings for people across the country, lending her voice and being to many benefits, embodying one of the songs we co-wrote, “You Gotta Be the Vessel.” My daughter Natalie, who fiercely supports people under attack, whether because they’re of color, trans, or suffering from mental illness, posted this on Facebook after the attacks: “My heart aches with you. But even through my grief, I am HERE for you. May this horrific event unify us as a community and make us stronger!” I could go on for not just inches of text, but yards and even miles about all the Miriams in plain sight.

Sue and me

Our communities themselves can also enact Miriam or Mary or  Lakshmi or other symbol of Tikkun Olam — rebuilding the broken world — through coming together in vigil, action, witnessing, and change-making. Moving forward as a people, a nation, a world requires all of us to find our innate Miriams from whatever our traditions: Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, spiritual, religious, or communal. WWJD is one light to follow, and there are many more beings of light, mythic and/or historic, long gone or right here among us.

People have an amazing capacity to come together in song, prayer, and tears, but also, afterwards, in keeping on keeping on. Within minutes of the Havdalah service ending, I started reading from Miriam’s Well, and we began laughing. The heightened moment and this audience’s visceral understanding of Miriam as well as the New York City subway system, the 1965 blackout, and other nuances of history, amplified everyone’s responses. Life calls on us to come together, make something greater than the sum of our seemingly separate selves, and together make our way toward the light: peace, justice, respect, homecoming. Healing may be mysterious, but it rarely happens by accident.

Look for the Miriams, whoever she is to or within you, and make of your life your own braided candle to light and hold high.

Special thanks to Elissa Pollack for arranging this event and to Beth Copelovitch for leading the Havdalah services

On the Cusp of the Days of Awe: Everyday Magic, Day 953

This pre-Rosh Hashana afternoon, as I watch a dive-bombing hummingbird and a dozen others just trying to get a drink from our feeder, my mind is on community. How we can make and keep community. What community is at its best, and how it enacts love as a verb. Why breaking bread, breaking through barriers, and breaking new ground together matters, especially in a time of rough-edged divides, political name-calling, and one-size-fits-all labels  that diminish us all.

I’m also thinking of awe: that sense of wonder at the shining edges and in-depth centers of the life force. From the vantage point of the porch I get to witness this regularly in the parade of clouds behind the translucent lines of spider webs where unfortunate moths meet their maker (and the spider). The good dog, realizing I’m not getting up to let him in, lies down gingerly, then collapses to sleep on his side. A hummingbird suspends itself in buzz on the other side of the screen, and the air is brilliantly bright and cool.

At sundown, I’ll be at the Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation, singing, davening (bowing back and forth in prayer), and even dancing at our Rosh Hashana service before the annual cookie orgy that follows, all of which opens the Day of Awe — the 10 days between the new year celebration and Yom Kippur, the day of fasting, prayer and atonement. During this time, we are called to fix anything we screwed up (particularly with other human) this year, based on the premise that while prayer can right us with God, only action can right us with each other. Of course this also entails looking at how we’ve messed things up with ourselves: times we may have acted not from our values and deepest goodness but from our anxieties and fearful badness.

Which gets me back to community and awe: we can’t sustain positive change in our lives without the help of one another. By opening our eyes to the wonder of how we can show up for each other and ourselves, we may just find the right steps, words, breathes, and stillnesses to arrive right where we are, in the promised land of this beautiful life even while trudging through the desert of brokenness, injustice, heartbreak, and grief.  Whether you’re Jewish or not, a new year is here for the taking (and I believe in jumping onboard for every new start that rolls on through). Let us walk together, and to all, L’Shanah Tovah (have a good and sweet year).

Here is a poem I wrote about this time:

 

Entering the Days of Awe

 

Let us walk unfettered into these days

unfurling in the sun, wide fields of old grasses

bracketed by sunflowers and pebbles.

Let us step into the lapis sky that fastens itself

to the driveway, the sidewalk, the worn leaves

of dying summer under new leaf fall.

Let us give up the wasteful thinking,

the 2 a.m. anxieties over what cannot be changed,

the waking with a gasp. Let us stand in the morning,

the new chill of the air clearing the disgards of time,

fear, reaching too hard or not enough.

Let the wrongs be made right. Let forgiveness

overtake the words we hear and pray, the stories

we’ve made and tilted. Let us remember this dreaming song

from all our beloveds long gone or just over the bend,

each note engraved with lost lands, singing

of how good it is when we dwell together.

Let the peripheral vision in the days of awe show us

the world, the first seeing of the heart, the last pulse

of those we love who travel with us. Let the wind shake

the trees, the tattered leaves shine, the last butterflies

flash their orange, the first dark blue of night

open into a panorama of past and present light

on its way to us all.

Let the next breath we take inscribe us in the book of life.

Let the next breath you give welcome us home.

~ Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

 

Miriam’s Well

Get your Copy of Miriam's Well: A Modern Day Exodus here.

A novel released on Passover (March 30) 2018, Ice Cube Press.

ISBN: 9781888160970, $21.99, 586 Pages (including recipes). Click here to get your copy (free shipping).

In this modern day retelling of the Exodus, Miriam wanders the political and spiritual desert of a changing America, torn between her roots as the Jewish daughter of a Black father and white mother, her yearning for home, and her brothers Aaron and Moses. Beginning in the middle of the 1965 New York City blackout, when stuck in the pitch-black subway somewhere in the East River, Miriam's family encounters a mysterious rabbi, who persuades the family to go to Israel where the family is caught in the 6-Day War. The losses from the war break apart the family, scattering Moses to western Kansas to live with evangelical Christians, Aaron to New York City to practice corporate law, and Miriam all over America. An astonishing cook and singer, Miriam has a knack for showing up to feed and help people at at landmark events, including People's Park during the Summer of Love, the Wounded Knee encampment in South Dakota, the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco, the Oklahoma City terrorist attack, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina. As she seeks the promised land, she shows her people, and eventually herself, how to turn the chaos and despair of our times into music, meals, and miracles.

See the Readers Guide here

The novel also includes over 35 pages of real recipes from the fictional cooking and baking Miriam does throughout the book, including delicious dishes from Nancy O'Connor's The Rolling Prairie Cookbook, Jayni and Frank Carey's The New Kansas Cookbook, Janet Majure's Recipes Worth Sharing, and Meg Heriford of the Ladybird Cafe.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg's retelling of Exodus is a sprawling tapestry, woven of all the threads of a modern-day Miriam's ancestors, and her own present and future. From the Badagry Point of No Return and a sukkah in the Sinai Desert to a series of camps, communes, and cafes all across America, Miriam's Well delves into the mystery of how we find our place in the world, within our families, even within ourselves. ~ Bryn Greenwood, New York Times bestselling author of All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

I fell in love with Miriam’s wisdom and her sweet engagements with the people she meets along her lush and vibrant travels. I was plunged to the depths of her nightmares, soared with her song, and emerged blessed to have made the journey with her. Miriam’s Well is the latest terrific book by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg.  ~ Jocelyn Cullity, author of Amah & the Silk-Winged Pigeons

Miriam’s Well is truly a hearty feast, and a song of life’s bounty, of its “fragile miracle,” of its sorrows and its cycling, its joy, its mystery, its sorrows, its journeying. The vibrantly moving and compelling storytelling is immediate, intimate, and resounding; bringing us into a complex weaving of tales, told and untold, from the Biblical epic to the painful legacy of United States, which frame the story of one brave woman with an inexhaustible well of caring. Daughter, sister, lover, neighbor, friend, mother, Miriam is one extraordinary ordinary woman whose life is emblematic of our absolutely interdependent web of relationships, physical and metaphysical, over the seasons of a lifetime and the histories of our own time. In Mirriam-Goldberg’s rendering of the web of story that is Miriam’s, Aaron’s, Joseph’s, Moses’, and our own, we are brought into the gift of tenderness and compassion in heartening human response to our historical conundrums. The work is big hearted, embracing, and wonderfully embodies love’s plenty and the power and the beauty of the story, the song, the telling, to remember and transform us. ~ Gale Jackson, author of Put Your Hands on Your Hips and Act Like a Woman: Song, Dance, Black History and Poetics in Performance

Miriam’s Well is a page-turner that gently pulls the reader into the heroine’s quest while also chronicling the country’s cultural revolutions, gastronomic recipes, political causes, women’s communes, spirituality, the AIDS crisis, Oklahoma and Twin Tower terrorist attacks. A compelling writer, Mirriam-Goldberg’s Miriam’s Well captures a quintessential American story, its multitude of nations, of immigrants and indigenes, in the quest towards a meaningful national identity.  ~ Omofolabo Ajayi-Soyinka, Professor of Theatre, and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, University of Kansas

This startlingly insightful and quietly confrontational novel by poet Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg courageously inserts the biblical prophet Miriam into many of the most daunting and provocative ethical conflicts since the early 60's civil rights revolution, as though we are Israel after the Exodus from slavery and before the Promised Land. Mirriam-Goldberg’s story calls on readers to consider "Have I done enough?" and "What is it that the Lord requires of you?"  A surprising page turner featuring multiple plot twists and turns, the moral challenges and clarity deserve more than attention, they demand debate. Do yourself a favor and share it with friends. ~ Rabbi Mark H. Levin, author of Praying the Bible

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg brings back the charged days of the 1970's revolutions and their aftermath in the decades to come in her novel Miriam's Well. For those of us who lived through those times, the book is a reminder of their importance.” ~ Thomas Pecore Weso, author of Good Seeds: A Menominee Indian Food Memoir.

With this novel, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg has extended her considerable poetic talents to the  narrative form, giving us sustenance for the body (her character's recipes) as well as inspiration for the spirit and the mind.  A masterful adaptation of Biblical wisdom to the challenges of the modern age, entertaining while informing all along the way.  And the storyline provides a marvelous overview of the cultural inflection points in 20th century American history along with an unforgettable character experiencing them.  This is one not to be missed!  ~ Mark Scheel, author of A Backward View: Stories and Poems

Podcasts & Videos

Kansas Public Radio Presents with Kaye McIntyre: Interview (see second podcast listed)

The Exodus, Midrash, and Miriam's Well: Podcast with Rabbi Mark Levin

Miriam's Well: A Modern Day Exodus

Finding the Promised Land in the Exodus of Our Times: Podcast with Rabbi Lori Wynters

Miriam and the New York City Blackout (excerpt from Chapter One)

Miriam's Well in the News

"Thoroughly Modern Miriam" by Jennifer Leeper in the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle

Lawrence Magazine feature on Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg (and click on + under image to make it bigger)

Eliza Gale's Interviews

Blog Posts

Recipes From (and For) the Journey

Making Stuff Up From Mrs. Potato Head to Eat the Earth

When Miriam Finishes Wandering the Desert

Please Help Me Find Cover Art for Miriam's Well

More

Miriam's Well newsletter special edition (with a great recipe for rugalach)

Miriam's Well Excerpt

See the Press Release Here

Book Tour!

Here's the list in progress of upcoming events that will take place over the 18 months of the book tour. Please visit my events page for details. All events are open to the public. Want me to come to your community? Please contact me here.

Nov. 15: Lawrence, Kansas - Special Event: Osher Institute, University of Kansas: 7 p.m.:  Sponsored by the Osher Institute, a reading, discussion, and reception featuring recipes from the book.

Dec. 11: Kansas City, MO - Read Local at the Plaza Library6:30 p.m. 4801 Main St., KCMO - reading and discussion of Miriam's Well.

March 14: Hutchinson, KS -  Visiting Writer & Miriam's Well Reading at Hutchinson Community College: details tba.

March 21-22: Emporia, KS -  Visiting Writer & Miriam's Well Reading at Emporia State University: details tba.

March 29: Springfield, N.J. - Reading at Sha'arey Shalom: evening., 78 S. Springfield Ave., Springfield, NJ.

Past Events:

April 28: Lawrence, Kansas -- Book Launch sponsored by the Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation, Lawrence Public Library, The Merc, and the Raven Bookstore.

June 23: Topeka, Kansas - Writing the Tree of Life: Midrash & Personal Mythology to Revision our Lives: 2-4 p.m., Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, 1515 SW 10th St., Topeka, KS. A writing workshop based on Miriam's Well to unearth, explore, and revise our life's myths. More here.

June 23: Topeka, Kansas - Miriam's Well Book Launch & Havdalah Service7 p.m., Temple Beth Sholom, 4200 SW Munson, Topeka, KS. Join us for a reading from Miriam's Well, short Havdalah service ( to welcome in the new week) and reception. More here.

June 30: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma - Writing the Tree of Life: Midrash & Personal Mythology to Revision Our Lives and Miriam's Well Reading10 a.m. Temple B'Nai Israel, 4901 N. Pennsylvania  Oklahoma City, OK 73112. Workshop and reading followed by lunch featuring recipes from Miriam's Well. More details here.

June 30: Wichita, Kansas - Miriam's Well ReadingWatermark Bookstore, 4 p.m., 4701 E. Douglas, Wichita, KS.

July 8: Prairie Village, Kansas - Miriam's Well Reading & Brunch:  Cafe Ohev at Temple Ohev Shalom,  5711 W. 75th St., Prairie Village, KS 66208. Brunch and a reading. More here.

July 13: Minneapolis, Minnesota - Miriam's Well Reading and Party: 7 p.m., Mojo Coffee Gallery -  2205 California St., Minneapolis, MN 5541. Reading with delectable treats made from the novel.

Aug. 3: Lincoln, Nebraska - Miriam's Well Reading and Reception5:30 p.m. at the Burkholder Project, 719 P Street
Haymarket District, Lincoln -- part of First Fridays.

Aug. 4: Lincoln, Nebraska - Miriam's Well Reading & Reception:  4:30 p.m., Francie & Finch Bookstore, 130 S. 13th Street, Lincoln -- featuring q & a, and a reception with recipes from the novel to try out.

Aug. 26: Overland Park, Kansas - Writing the Tree of Life workshop 11 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. Jewish Community Center's Day of Discovery.

Sept. 6: Pittsburg, Kansas - Visiting Writer & Miriam's Well Reading at Pittsburg State University,  8 p.m., Governor’s Rm of Overman Student Center, Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, KS.

Sept. 13: Topeka, Kansas - Visiting Writer & Miriam's Well Reading at Washburn University. 4 p.m., Carole Chapel, 1840 SW College Blvd., Topeka.

Oct. 3: Kansas City - Miriam's Well KC Launch at Function Junction 5-8 p.m. featuring short readings from the novel at 5:30, 6:30, and 7:30. The event features Susan Hancock singing some of the songs Miriam sings and friends of Function Junction baking and cookies some of the recipes from the novel, plus there'll be wine and a 10% discount on Function Junction goods and Caryn's books.

Oct. 10: Burlington, Vermont - Miriam's Well Reading & Writing Midrash Workshop: 7 p.m., Congregation Ruach Hamaqom, a renewal movement synagogue, 168 Archibald St., Burlington.

Oct. 11: Montpelier, Vermont - Miriam's Well Reading 7 p.m., Kellogg Hubbard Library, 135 Main St., Montpelier, VT. Sponsored by the library, Temple Beth Jacob, and Bear Pond Books.

Oct.  21: Lawrence, Kansas - Writing Jewish SymposiumSponsored by Jewish Studies at the University of Kansas, Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation, 917 Highland, Lawrence, KS. part of a day-long symposium featuring Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Renee Perelmutter, and Rena Rossner, and recipes from Miriam's Well. More here.

Oct. 23: Atchison, Kansas - Visiting Writer & Miriam's Well Reading at Benedictine College. 4 p.m., Gangel Seminar Room in Ferrell Learning Center, Benedictine College.

Oct. 27: Madison, Wisconsin - Miriam's Well Reading & Havdalah Service: 7:30 p.m., Beth Israel Center, 1406 Mound St., Madison, WI. Please join us for a reading from Miriam's Well followed by a short Havdalah service (to  welcome in the new week) and reception. More here.

For Book Clubs

Would your book club like to read Miriam's Well? If so, just have your club buy six or more books (free shipping!), and Caryn will visit your club via video or phone conferencing or, if you're near where she is, in person. contact Caryn here. 

In Gratitude for Neil: Everyday Magic, Day 917

Neil, bottom left, last Hanukkah

In memory of Neil Salkind, who died today.

We sat at a small table in La Prima Tassa on a spring day filtering sunshine across our table, sipping tea and updating each other on our children. “Hey Pal, the thing is,” Neil said, “I want them to be happy. My job is simply to love them. That’s what we do as parents: we love them and want them to be happy.” I had just been inventorying my long list of anxieties about my kids when Neil’s words stopped me in my tracks. Yes, he was right, and I remembered his words a thousand and one times, reminding me how simple, and also at times, difficult it can be to love our children without any expectation but for their happiness.

I met Neil I-don’t-know-when through the Jewish center, probably in ’83 or so, and we immediately connected. We were both from Jersey, and the tone of his voice and his sense of humor felt like home to me. I looked for him during services and the annual Blintz Brunch, happy to simply be in his good humored company, laughing about whatever we could laugh about, which was almost everything, and occasionally sneaking in short in-depth talks about what matters in life, and what doesn’t. Neil wasn’t one for gossip, and instead directed his big energy toward what he loved: his work, his community, and especially his wife and children.

Neil was over the moon and past this solar system in love with Leni, his wife of over 49 years. They were the most affectionate couple I saw, whether sitting side by side for High Holidays, holding hands, leaning in to share a thought or memory, or around their home where Neil specialized in amazing cooking and baking (oh, his challah!). He adored Leni – her style, her stories, her art, her way of being in the world, and through his adoration he modeled for us a way to always show gratitude and wonder toward our beloveds. He also was enthralled with his kids Micah (and Micah’s husband) and Sara, and he reveled in their adventures, friendships, and accomplishments.

I also knew another angle of Neil: he was my literary agent before he retired from the grind, hustle, and thrill of making deals. He got Needle in the Bone, my non-fiction book about Lou Frydman and Jarek Piekalkiewicz, published by the University of Nebraska Press, and he also tried valiantly to find Stephen Locke and me a publisher for Chasing Weather, our storm poetry and photography book. In the years we worked together in the book biz, he was consistently cheerful, supportive, and upbeat. We would do what we could, and he would bring great enthusiasm to the literary agenting, which he did.

He brought such enthusiasm to all aspects of his life, from setting out (with two other families) a huge spread for an annual Rosh Hashana community gathering held for years in his home to swimming competitively and in friendship with a long-time group of friends.

Then there’s Neil, the printer. Neil bought some old presses Ken’s dad, also a printer, collected, and he printed gorgeous letter-press broadsides with hand-set type. Recently, he did an beautiful and limited editing printing of a poem by Beth Schultz about the Jewish cemetery in Eudora. He printed my poem “Entering the Days of Awe” to sell as a fundraiser for the Jewish center as well as my poem “In Gratitude” as a fundraiser for the Transformative Language Arts Network.

Thinking of his work in printing “In Gratitude,” I’m struck by how Neil embodied a grateful life: he truly relished his connections with his friends, his community, his work (which was vast and off-the-charts successful as a professor, writer, literary agent, and many other roles), and especially his dearest beloveds. I’m grateful for what he showed me about living a grateful life, and for each conversation over coffee, lunch, or in the back of the synagogue, each hug, each time he called me “pal.” Here’s the poem he set and printed, which speaks of Neil’s legacy:

In Gratitude

The wind thanks you, unfurling over the worn

horizon so it can billow into night. The stars too,

whether talismans of light dying or just being born,

behind the small birds arriving or staying behind,

who balance gratefully on thin branches of coming winter.

The squirrel in the field, the hidden fox, the mammals

under and overground. The world is composed,

is composing itself anew even in a narrow time:

just before the red-winged blackbird folds

back in silhouette. Whatever act of kindness flies

lands in the heart of a moment, a seasonal marker

to illuminate why we live, a song of gratitude.

Losing and Finding My C’hai (Which is Not a Dala Horse): Everyday Magic, Day 915

At breakfast at the Swedish Country Inn in Lindsborg, Kansas, someone said she liked my tiny gold Dala horse necklace. It took me a moment to realize that the C’hai — the Jewish symbol for life, luck, the auspicious number 18, and also the Hebrew letter C’hai — looks just a little like the Swedish Dala horse, a symbol of Swedish hospitality. I explained the C’hai to her, then dug into some Swedish meatballs, pickled herring, and rye bread.

Ken and I having decided to spend some time in this charming town after a gig in  equally lovely Glasco, Kansas, where I got to see one of my favorite Dala horses in Lindsborg. Every few feet there seems to be another Dala horse painted in wild and artsy ways instead of in traditional red. As someone who loves language, even punctuation, talking on the phone, and the Dalai Lama, my Dala of choice is the Dala-Lama-Tele-Comma. I rode the mighty steed nowhere before we went for dinner.

A day later, back in Lawrence, I was taking off a scarf while driving and accidentally snapped my C’hai off its chain. I caught the C’hai, then had to decide where to put it until I got it home and could put it back on my necklace. I considered my pocket, but decided against it. Small objects that go there often end up in the laundry where they travel to a place beyond human contact, the island of self-liberated socks. So instead I put the C’hai in a plastic bottle cap on a flat surface in the car and drove on.

Once home, wouldn’t you know it? The C’hai (and bottle cap) were gone. I took apart the car, pulling out rugs, removing a great many cough drop wrappers and pencils from under seats, and searching in every nook and cranny I could find on the car floor, alternating which door I opened to see how far the C’hai had flown. With a video meeting for work looming, I eventually had to stop and go inside for an hour, but as soon as I was done, I went back to the car.

I was worried more than about losing the jewelry. My mom had given me this C’hai when I was diagnosed with cancer in 2002, and I’ve worn it almost all the time since then, a talisman remembering me to life in my mind. What would losing it mean? I told myself it was silly to think a vanished C’hai meant cancer would return, and perhaps I had arrived at the time when I no longer needed to wear the C’hai, but I also know my rationalization was as shaky as my magical thinking.

When I opened the passenger door, there, right on the floor and in plain sight, was the C’hai, having dropped out from a floor carpet I had shaken. A C’hai may not be a Dala horse, but it turns out to have its own legs.